Memories of Jack Leahy VE1ZZ

VE1ZZ was not only a personal friend to many of us – he was probably one of the finest Topband Dx’ers ever to have lived.  He goes back to not long after W1BB came back on the band at the end of WWII – and was one of the strongest signals I have ever witnessed on Topband.  His signal was almost LEGENDARY all over the world.  EU stations used to say  – “He is almost as loud when he calls in Asian pileups as the EU callers are over here”…and that says it all!

Jack Leahy was personally responsible for my migrating to VY2ZM and was here at my home twice – once is 2002 and once in 2012.  I last visited him and Opal (his XYL) in August of 2014 with Mike OE6MBG who wanted to meet Jack and see his QTH .

When I finally had the time after building my house here on PEI  to visit Jack which was probably in July of 2003 or 2004, at first blush his place did not make a huge impression on me because it had only a short triangular portion of land at the road in the Head of Jeddore NE of Halifax – and the land rose rapidly behind his home.  One initially wondered “How does he get out so well from here down at the road?”

The answer came shortly thereafter – Jack took me out behind the house – and we climbed that hill – up and up and up for something like a MILE – it was a pizza slice in shape and very wide at the top of the hill in the woods – with only about 100 feet (if that) at the road front side of the parcel.

Some distance up the hill was Jack’s 160m 4sq array – which was made of ROHN 6 tower – that was sitting on 18 wheeler truck tires as base insulators.  The towers were not tall – perhaps 55 feet or so and the rest of each radiator was wire – so it was really a WIRE inverted L 4sq.  Jack was the “ultimate scavenger” and his radials were all 1-2″ diameter pieces of HARDLINE!!!  Hundreds of them all over the hillside  I think he had a friend in CATV or at his local dump – but he got most of it for next to nothing he said.

From that point of his land, he could reach around the HILLTOP on 160m to acquire  a clear shot to EU and the South was wide open and to the SW was also clear looking over the water.  Looking straight up the hill was probably blocked to some degree – but often this does not matter all that much on Topband.

The day I was there was shortly after Jack had managed to communicate across the pond on what I think was 600m – I may be wrong about the frequency – but the antenna he used to make the SLOW SLOW SPEED CW contact was something out of this world!

It started about 1/3 of the way up the hill – and ran all the way to the rear of the property to near the furthest reaches of his land – and this was a LONG LONG LONG walk to get there – through some land that I recall was swampy.  It had to have been at least 3000 feet long.

Part way up the hill, Jack had built a small shelter in which he placed the BIGGEST homebrew loading coil I have ever seen. It was about 4 feet tall and about 8 feet in diameter and wrapped around some kind of coil form he had created.

Jack explained that it took him awhile to resonate the system to his desired operating QRG – and this was done by taking a pair of alligator clips and through trial and error he tapped the coil he made – trying to use a DC ammeter to find the point of peak current into the system – which he explained seemed to indicate the system was reasonably matched.

His was among the first to work across the pond with that antenna – just one of his many achievements.

When I was in the US Navy stationed at Bremerhaven, Germany I used to listen to Jack and W1BB on 160m.  W1BB would sit around 1801, KV4FZ often was around 1803 and Jack was down at the low end as well – calling CQ listening QSX up at around 1825-1830 in what was then known as the “DX Window”.

Jack had a huge signal even then – using equipment that was popular in that era.  I recall a Hammarlund HQ 160 Rx or something close to that model – there is a photo of that station from the late 1950’s in my book “Dx’ing on the Edge.”

Jack’s More Recent Station  – Inside

When I first visited Jack in 2003/2004, it was in his old house – not the newer one he built further up the hill some years later.  The station was vintage (much like my own on Cape Cod) – and Jack used a TS830 driving a HB amp to something around a KW DC input.  Jack’s operating table gave me a chuckle because there was only about 4 inches of space between the front panel of the radio and the edge of the table.  Jack was a “leftie” and placed his paddle parallel to the front of the TS830 and did his best to keep his forearm on the table while he sent.

Jack’s keying system triggered a bunch of interconnected relays as he operated and he had quite a number of vintage antenna switches which selected his many Rx antennas.

After visiting his shack, Jack later showed me around other parts of the rest of the house – and I recall several rooms CHOCK FULL of stuff most of us would die for.  One room was full of EIMAC xmitting tubes – 4-400’s, some 304TL’s, some 4-1000A’s etc

Another room had shelves loaded with vacuum relays and vacuum variables he had collected over the years.  Not one or two – but something like a 100 of them.  There were also rotary inductors for HB design and many other things that made me drool.

I think I remember a third room full of vintage ham radio gear as well.  Older stuff he had used previously over the years I guess.

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I will relate one story about Jack when I was operating at 7O6T over in Yemen in 2012 I think it was.  I was calling CQ arond 1823kHz waiting for SS to occur in NA – and this bone crushing signal came at me that almost blew me out of my chair.  You can listen to this clip on my VY2ZM website – and you will see what I mean.

I told Jack that I was operating in the snippet – and later asked him to please tell me when OTHER NA stations were calling.  I said, please do NOT tell me the calls – just tell me that USA stations are now hearing me and calling me.  Jack did as I asked and about 15 mins later a very weak in the noise caller was Dave Patten, NN1N who was probably 3-4 S units down from Jack’s signal.  Dave’s station is first rate – but there is something truly magical about operating from the Maritimes along oceanfront property.  It is just how things work – Jack had what I call the “front door” to the NE path and it often shows up as it did that evening at 7O6T.

Here’s how to listen to what I heard:

1) Go to http://www,vy2zm.com
2) Select the sound bites tab
3) Click on Sound Bite #4 and play VE1ZZ – Booming.
4) If you also wish to hear NN1N’s piece look further down the list to hear the difference in signal levels.

JACK’s last years

I last spoke with Jack in the summer of 2016.  He told me he then had COPD and that his amp needed repairs and that his antennas were largely broken.  I had heard him sparingly in 2015 and probably not at all in 2016 – and that explained why.

JACK’s 160m DXCC Achievements:

For many years JACK  held the #2 position WORLD in the Topband DXCC rankings.  He finished his legendary Topband career at 334 countries confirmed at position #6 in the current rankings.  This is only a HANDFUL of entities below that necessary to have qualified for DXCC HONOR ROLL – single band 160M.  His mild, unassuming manner was also the measure of the man.  He would stop DX’ing and work ANYONE who called him – which says alot as well.  His was a special person and I have always admired him and what he managed to do in HAM RADIO.

Not only did he make DXCC on 160m – in the summers he got me hooked on 6M and he had a 6M DXCC as well – just to keep himself occupied during the summer doldrums on 160M.

I will close now and stop reminiscing about Jack – but I think it is altogether fitting that we stop and pause a moment to remember this fine 160M operator and gentleman and what he achieved on the band we all love to operate.  He will always occupy a special place in our memories of Topband!

73 and thanks for the bandwidth.

JEFF  K1ZM/VY2ZM

Email:   K1ZM@aol.com

Jeff Briggs
DXing on the Edge: The Thrill of 160 Meters

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